I was lucky to be invited to a web conference for the California Arts Council (CAC). This is an organization that I know of especially for its advocacy role for funding art for the state. It turns out that their state budget allocation was cut from $40 million to $1 million. The one million was a concession to a matching NEA federal grant of $1 million. In other words if the state had not funded the CAC for $1 million they would have lost the $1 million from the federal NEA grant. Surprisingly, a huge percentage of the money raised for the CAC comes from the ARTS license plates and the largest city to buy those plates is San Diego. They raise $3.5 million this way and most of that goes to fund the artist residency programs to get art back in the state schools. Programs have to be 13 weeks long and a whopping 75% actually go to the artists! Yes, I was not surprised to hear this is way above average as in many cases it seems to be the reverse with 75% going to admin. Average is about 50%
I further found out during this exchange, that most counties have a recognized art council that can apply for fund form the CAC. But in the case of SD, we only have a city council, the Commission for Arts and Culture, which can apply for funds. And the Commission for Arts and Culture only serves the City of San Diego. We also have an independent, unrecognized by the CAC, SD Regional Coalition for the Arts. Any city council can be a member (SD, Encinitas, Escondido and Carlsbad are members), but the Coalition is mainly an advocacy organization and does not have anything to do with funding.
We do not have any umbrella group to which all the cities councils in our county belong at this time that I have discovered. If we want to have a County Arts Council it would need to be recognized by 3 out of the 5 SD County Board of Supervisors i.e. Chairman Greg Cox , District 1 , Vice Chairman Dianne Jacob, District 2 Pam Slater-Price (soon to retire, I am told) District 3, Ron Roberts District 4 Chairman and Bill Horn District 5 . There is not much funding that can be applied for, as the CAC total budget is only about $5.5 million. Besides the residency programs, there is money for operating expenses, technical assistance for disabled, support for low income and rural programs, and funding for programs that are collaborative between at least 3 geographically unconnected counties.
We are being asked to check the box on our income tax returns to give $1 to the arts for the CAC. If we want that to come to SD outside of the city funds, then a council needs to be formed and approved. So we struggle here in San Diego with the idea of a County-wide Arts Council. What would be its role? What funds would actually come its way if it did organize? Would a new non-profit need to be formed or would an existing one take on this role? Until the role of a regional arts council is determined, these are hard questions to answer. That role would certainly have to be determined by its members.
Our local cities have different names for those making decisions about the arts. There are art councils, commissions, committees but most are volunteers who are exclusively concerned with their own agendas. There must certainly be crossover concerns and there might be some united goals as well. This is only a worthwhile project if coming together is a win-win for all concerned. The recent envision project Show Your Love for SD funded by the SD Foundation announced results that the general population is ready for change and does want those in leadership roles to all work together and not be silo-ed with little or no inter-communication. I found this quite heartening.
But the real challenge of creating a united SD arts council is to do it in such a way that it is an administratively minimal financial obligation. If not, it is just one more drain on resources. The moment you ask for a membership fee or listing fee, you are in danger of disenfranchising part of the community. So are we technologically advanced enough to have a virtual arts council? If we see San Diego as an innovation capital, a virtual arts council would be a good way to prove it.